Korean Air Flight 801 Crashes into Nimitz Hill on Guam

Korean Air Flight 801 (KE801, KAL801) crashed on August 6, 1997 on approach to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam (a United States insular area).
Flight 801 was normally flown by an Airbus A300; since Korean Air had scheduled the August 5-6 flight to transport Guamanian athletes to the South Pacific Mini Games in American Samoa, the airline designated HL7468, a Boeing 747-300 delivered to Korean Air on December 12, 1984, to fly the route that night. The aircraft crashed on Nimitz Hill in Asan.


Flight 801 departed from Seoul-Kimpo International Airport (now Gimpo Airport) at 8:53 pm (9:53 pm Guam time) on August 5 on its way to Guam. It carried 2 pilots, 1 flight engineer, 14 flight attendants, and 237 passengers [11], a total of 254 people. Of the passengers, 3 were children between the ages of 2 and 12 and 3 were 24 months old or younger. Six of the passengers were Korean Air flight attendants who were "deadheading" (traveling off-duty).

The flight, headed by 42-year old Captain Park Yong-chul (Hangul: 박용철, RR: Bak Yong-cheol, M-R: Pak Yongch'ŏl)[14] 40-year old First Officer Song Kyung-ho (Hangul: 송경호, RR: Song Gyeong-ho, M-R: Song Kyŏngho) and 57-year old flight engineer Nam Suk-hoon (Hangul: 남석훈, RR: Nam Seok-hun, M-R: Nam Sŏkhun)[15], experienced some turbulence but was uneventful until shortly after 1:00am on August 6, as the jet was preparing to land. Park had originally been scheduled to fly to Dubai, United Arab Emirates; since he did not have enough rest for the Dubai trip, he was reassigned to Flight 801.Earlier Park won a flight safety award for negotiating a 747 engine failure.

There was heavy rain at Guam so visibility was significantly reduced and the crew was attempting an instrument landing. Air traffic control in Guam advised the crew that the glideslope Instrument Landing System (ILS) in runway 6L was out of service. Air traffic control cleared Flight 801 to land in runway 6L at around 1:40 am. The crew noticed that the plane was descending very steeply, and noted several times that the airport "is not in sight". At 1:42 am, the aircraft crashed into Nimitz Hill, about 3 miles (5 km) short of the runway, at an altitude of 660 feet (201 m).

36-year-old Hong Hyun Seong (also spelled Hong Hyun Sung), a survivor who occupied Seat 3B in first class, said that the crash occurred so quickly that the passengers "had no time to scream" and compared the crash to "a scene from a film".

The rescue effort was hampered by the weather, terrain, and other problems. Emergency vehicles could not approach due to a fuel pipeline destroyed by the crash and blocking the narrow road. There was confusion over the administration of the effort; the crash occurred on land owned by the United States Navy but civil authorities initially claimed authority. The hull had disintegrated, and jet fuel in the wing tanks had sparked a fire which was still burning eight hours after impact.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation report stated that the Minimum Safe Altitude Warning (MSAW) system had been deliberately modified and would not detect the plane that close to the runway. The captain failed to brief his non-precision approach and prematurely descended to decision height. Contributing to the accident were the captain's fatigue, Korean Air's lack of flight crew training, as well as the intentional inhibition of the Guam ILS. The crew had been using an outdated flight map, which stated that the Minimum Safe Altitude for a landing plane was 1,770 feet (540 m) as opposed to 2,150 feet (656 m). Flight 801 had been maintaining 1,870 feet (570 m) when it was waiting to land.

There has been deep tragedy here. We must bury our dead, heal our wounded, face ourselves and confront our own fear of chaos and mortality. Yet, if we are able to transform our experience of this tragedy and use our feelings of loss and despair in order to reach out beyond our own selves, our own families, our own neighborhoods, we can connect with one another on a higher level, then the healing will have begun.

— Carl T.C Gutierrez, Governor of Guam